Plaza ghosts reveal tale of working gals

Vignettes address Plaza Hotel’s hotbed of history

Sadie Forbes

Twisting the historical tales of sex trade, travellers and the Victoria Plaza Hotel, three Victoria feminists created the show Ghosts of the Plaza.

The 100-year-old hotel has a vibrant history and if the walls could talk, they’d have plenty of tales to tell.

“It’s a show that’s never been seen before. It’s a comedy and you’ll be entertained,” says Sadie Forbes, co-producer and co-writer. “It’s a working-class feminist perspective on one of Victoria’s most controversial spaces.”

The show includes elements of sex work, strippers, feminism and gangsters.

During the 1920s and 1930s hotels in Victoria hit a bit of financial slump and started doubling as brothels, says Forbes.

Ghosts of the Plaza was first imagined by the show’s co-producer and co-writer Sarah Smith. She worked in the hotel for nine years as a bartender, and studied the hotel’s history in the basement when she could.

When she heard the City of Victoria was offering grants for arts projects tied to specific addresses, such as the hotel at 642 Johnson St., the idea for the show was sparked.

Forbes was surprised the city decided to fund the project, “They knew the show would be sexy,” she says.

Although the production showcases the history of the Plaza Hotel, Ghosts of the Plaza is performed at the Odd Fellows Hall.

In lieu of paying to rent the venue, the producers are making a donation to PEERS Victoria Resource Society. PEERS provides support for former and current sex workers.

“We chose PEERS because of the hotel’s connection to sex work,” Forbes says, adding that even now Monty’s Showroom Pub, which features exotic dancers, operates out of the hotel.

Smith partnered with Forbes and Rosie Bitts to write and produce the production.

“We want to keep it in proper historical context,” Forbes says.

Both Bitts and Smith are burlesque dancers and they were able to incorporate that into the show due to the hotel’s early ties to the sex trade.

“Burlesque was the first form of stripping,” Forbes says.

Ghosts of the Plaza contains a series of six vignettes. The audience will travel through the venue and time during the show.

The first vignette begins in 1911 and by the time the show ends the audience is back in the present day.

There are some challenges with a travelling audience. “Timing is huge,” says Forbes. “Many of the actors are used to being on stage with bright lights and they can’t see the audience. Here they see their faces and their expressions.”

On Nov. 16 and 17, 23 and 24, shows will run twice nightly at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Matinees are at 4:30 p.m.

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